The Soul’s Unfurnished Rooms

Good morning and Happy New Year. I was pleasantly surprised to see during my absence that y’all are still reading this thing. So I’ll keep writing it, I guess. Until I run out of things to say.

There was an interesting lunar eclipse on New Year’s Eve. I spent it on my porch smoking cigarettes. My one-day-a-year indulgence. Then I quit smoking as my new year’s resolution. It works every time. My smoking partner is also my Saints Consort. We discussed the upcoming game. Then to our great dismay, the “bless-you boys” lost to the Panthers on Sunday. Pretty much what we expected, given that Payton pulled Brees from the starting line-up. To save his arm for the play-offs, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda. Yes, I understand why this was a smart tactical decision. They ended the season 13 and 3, which is great. Still, I object on moral grounds. Basically Payton threw the last game because he could. The thinking goes: Why bother playing the game if it does not explicitly lead to the Superbowl? I ask: Is this a game or isn’t it?

Emily’s remarks follow:

#393, c. 1862

Did Our Best Moments last —
‘Twould supersede the Heaven —
A few — and they by Risk — procure —
So this Sort — are not given —

Except as stimulants — in
Cases of Despair —
Or Stupor — The Reserve —
These Heavenly Moments are —

A Grant of the Divine —
That Certain as it Comes —
Withdraws — and leaves the dazzled Soul
In her unfurnished Rooms

She warns us . . . or perhaps this is more of a neutral philosophical observation that we cannot live on the peaks of our life experiences, only the valleys. The purpose of these Best Moments is to give us a glimpse of the good orderly direction that shapes our lives. A hint of magic beneath the drear. “In case of despair, break glass and remember that joy!” Otherwise, why would we bother?

She also points out that if our so-called Best Moments were the everyday condition of our lives, that would make Heaven obsolete. We need that sharp contrast of our best moments against our worst moments (or just ordinary moments) to have some definition around our experience. Without that, Heaven becomes mundane.

Sorry, going off topic— I can’t help but remark that it is unbearably cold here. I know it’s churlish of me to complain about winter in New Orleans, but that doesn’t stop me. (My fingers and toes are numb! And I hate it!) Especially absurd to complain given that I have just returned from the Northeast where another four inches of snow accumulated on the ground as my plane took off. Despite the weather, I had a lovely visit with my nephews. We went ice skating, and I remembered how to skate backwards and make figure eights and even a few brave spins. The joy! I just needed a teeny flippy skirt and tights to be complete. I am a Yank in my bones after all, although my poor fingers and toes prefer living in the balmy swamp.

I love Christmas, but I am also relieved when it’s over. Same with Mardi Gras. These Best Moments, super-saturated with sweet indulgence, are exhausting. I enjoy the return to mundane home, the ordinary tasks, walking Lance, straightening the house, taking a breath and reviewing the coming year. What will I make of it? So glad I quit smoking . . .

For now I am meditating on the image of “the dazzled Soul/ In her unfurnished Rooms”. The first thought links back to her earlier poem, where Emily told us “The Truth must dazzle gradually”, suggesting the soft punch of the poem on her readers, while here she offers her own Soul in a state of bedazzlement. All this blinding sparkle. Over what? A joy. The gift that leaves even Emily’s soul bereft of words. What was the thing that touched her so deeply? The sense that arises from the image is the dissolving remnant of a memory, some peak fulfillment. The Soul’s rooms are empty afterward because nothing else remains after such a joy. The force of the pleasure blasted everything away so that now the space around the Soul is blessedly empty. No clutter. No chatter. Lots of room for the unfolding awareness of contrast. Emily brings her focus to a pure knowledge of what was . . . by staying in what is.

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